Gaming Overview

Several years ago, my grandsons introduced me to more sophisticated computer gaming than the simple free stuff like Solitaire. The first game they showed me in detail and had me try was Minecraft. It remains one of my favorite games and I highly recommend it for all sorts of reasons, not the least being how open-ended it is leaving virtually all of what happens to the player. It is a terrific tool for developing creativity.

Before long we also were playing World of Warships (shortly after it first became available). The grandsons had already been playing World of Tanks and wanted to try the Warships. After learning how to play World of Warships and enjoying it, especially with the grandsons, I decided to add and learn World of Tanks so I could play that with them also. Both games are free and can be easily downloaded and installed.

About the time Civilization V was released in its final expansion (2015), younger grandson talked me into buying it so he and I could play it in multiplayer mode. I did so and quickly became a fan of the game. We eventually convinced older grandson to get the game too. We’ve had a lot of fun playing together, using the audio only of Skype to be able to talk with each other while playing. Very recently we have used Discord instead of Skype, because of its better-quality audio experience while gaming.

Installing Civ V introduced me to Steam, a digital game distribution platform, and over time I have added various other games they distribute – Cities: Skylines, Rocket League, Stellaris – and more recently Europa Universalis IV and Civilization VI – again mostly because the grandsons were playing them and it was great fun keeping up a long-distance relationship with them via gaming.

I’ve always enjoyed playing various board games since I was a kid, so the transition to complex computer games was not difficult. One board game that I have enjoyed in its electronic version is Settlers of Catan. Microsoft games owns the rights of the electronic version, and one has to buy a license for the game to play it on a computer, but that is another game well worth the price.

I expect to continue gaming, especially having just invested in a replacement gaming laptop.

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Alienware 17 Quirks and Tweaks

In the past ten years, I’ve used now five different laptops. The first one I did not own, but was provided by my employer so I could work from home as needed. When I retired, I was by then used to having two computers in the house (using the work laptop) and missed having it so, I bought my first laptop. Ever since having two computers in the house has been the norm.

One advantage of having and using several different laptops is realizing each one has unique features. Most prominent is the keyboard layout. I’ve not done any research to discover why each manufacturer seems to believe they have a better idea for keyboard layout, but I suspect it has to do with functions and efficiency.

The central portion of every keyboard I’ve owned has been largely the same with QWERTY layout and standard function keys. Some have included the 10-key number pad on the right side (if the screen size permits a wider keyboard) and others did not.

Where they have differed has been in placement of special keys such as ‘Home’, ‘End’, and ‘Delete’ and the size of certain keys, especially the ‘Backspace’ key. Also, the gaming computers have extra macro keys. For example, my Alienware 17 has a column of macro keys on the far left of the standard keyboard keys as well as a short row of four keys above the number pad. So far, I have not programmed any macro keys or used any of them, but some day might explore what value they may have in my uses of the computer.

I am finally getting use to the specific layout of this keyboard, but it will always be a work in progress because the desktop has just a standard keyboard and that means I often need to look at the keyboard for certain functions.

As with all new computers, special software comes standard with the hardware. I immediately uninstall all the apps I know I will never use to free up some space on the operating system hard drive. Some apps, however, are very useful.

One of the special software packages that comes with Alienware computers is the Alienware Command Center. It was exploring this app where I learned how to customize one of the cool features of gaming computers – the back lighting of the keyboard, as well as side and cover lighting. It took me a while to learn just how to make changes and create new lighting themes, but I now have my preferences set as the default. One aspect of the lighting I have not yet figured out is why sometimes when gaming the back lighting will randomly change color or go dark. Still some trouble-shooting to do on that issue.

It has taken some adjustment, but I am gradually settling in to enjoying this laptop as much as any other I’ve owned.

Windows 10 Pro

One positive side-effect of having so many computer problems over the last six months is how much I have learned about Windows 10 in the process of trouble-shooting. I’m a little fuzzy on the differences between the Home and Pro versions now, because I have been using Pro exclusively for a couple of months, so I may have to do a little more research on that someday if that becomes important.

As I write this, my current version is:

  • Windows 10 Pro
  • Version: 1803
  • Build: 17134.285
  • x64-based processor

Following are some of the useful things I’ve learned recently:

  • When the most recent major update came out this past April, it made one noticeable, major change that has been a challenge at times to work around. That change was eliminating the Windows Home Group function. In the long run, this will be an improvement, mostly because it is much easier to share a file or folder with others on a network than it used to be and no longer requires a password, but my issue with it as of this date is I cannot consistently share a new whole drive or computer. Fortunately, I have been able to share at the folder and file level, but getting easy access required a work around. After setting up the folder and/or file to be shared with everyone on the network, I manually accessed the folder/file from the other computer then pinned that to Quick Start. So, now I can move files from one computer to another easily. The quirky part of this glitch is somehow Windows 10 treats computers that were part of a Home Group differently than one that was not. For some reason, the desktop (which was setup with a Home Group and password) can be accessed on the network by the laptop, although the C drive (operating system drive) cannot as a drive (folders and files within in are accessible if specifically shared). However, my new laptop which did not have any previous Home Group setup, cannot be accessed by the desktop on the network. That can make sharing a combination of folders and files rather tedious. Each time there is a comprehensive update (as there was today, September 13, 2018), I hope it is fixed, but so far it is not.
  • I have decided for our household uses, having two separate computers not in Windows sync is the best option. We therefore use the local account sign-in option on both computers rather than signing in to my Microsoft account. I am aware we are missing out on some functions as a result, but at this point we have no problem with this approach.
  • Another interesting option in Windows 10 I have now disabled is focus assist. It is supposed to minimize or stop the automatic notifications that come from various sources when you don’t want them interrupting. Having turned off almost all of the app notifications, I found the ones I do want on do not disrupt anything, including during gaming, so I do not have a use for focus assist.
  • By far the most useful feature for gaming is the Windows 10 Gaming Mode. At first, I had this disabled thinking it was only for Microsoft games, but since have learned it is a great way to give priority of computing power to the game and either shutting down or diminishing the focus for background operations. I believe that has helped make Civ VI especially operate more efficiently. I really like the relative ease of use of the Gaming Bar and the fact that once a particular game is turned on, it will automatically be so in the future when you start the game, removing the need to manually turn it on each time you play a game. While I do not use the functions of recording, taking snapshots, etc., the Gaming Bar makes doing so very easy.

 

Alienware 17 R5

Once it was clear the Asus was not going to be salvageable, I started doing research on what I was going to buy to replace it.

I briefly considered a gaming desktop that would be high-end, probably a custom build on one of the build-your-own sites. Before long I realized that was not the best option at this time, because if I want to continue gaming with grand kids at their homes or otherwise while traveling, a laptop was the only option. It will be a few years yet before they are old enough to not be living at home – either at college or on their own – so laptop was the choice.

I did quite a bit of searching online for various options, first setting my sights on a less high-end machine in hopes of saving money while still having adequate power to run the games we play. That approach did not last long as it soon became obvious that the minimum specs I was willing to live with (such as 16 Gig RAM) meant a gaming computer was the only viable option.

After some more searching, I finally settled on the Alienware 17 R5. For the most part I am happy with it.

I ordered it online direct from Dell, and decided to pay the extra fee to expedite delivery (because by this time we had been operating with one computer in the household for a couple of weeks). My credit card service promptly decided it was an unusual expense and put a hold on it until I approved it, which I did within minutes of notification. Unfortunately, they would not try again to run the expenditure through until the next day, so I communicated with Dell and asked them to try it again immediately. It went through, but the delay ended up delaying the shipping a day. Following the shipping tracking was fascinating. The origin, apparently where the Dell factory or distribution center is located, was Kunshan, China. The next destination was Shanghai, China then Anchorage, Alaska. From there it went to Louisville, Kentucky where it went through customs. Although it only took a couple of minutes to clear customs (according to the UPS tracking report), it was a couple of days before it was reported as picked up and shipped from there, but it did arrive on the last day of the window of time promised when I paid the extra fee.

I was eager to get it set up when it arrived, but had decided when it was in transit that I was going to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro so I would have that on both computers. During the setup process I did the upgrade. Upon installation all went reasonably well, but I did find several updates of Windows and components, including drivers were required.

Only a couple of features have been a bit disappointing, though not enough to be a serious problem. First, the Alienware 17 R5 has only two USB ports! I was used to having four, so that was an adjustment, although most of the time I only use two – one for the mouse, the other for a portable backup drive that I connect and disconnect as needed. Second, I was somewhat surprised that the computer runs hot, especially while gaming. The Asus had such good internal cooling fans, small rubber legs keeping under the laptop open, and vents in the chassis, that it was not a problem. The Alienware runs much hotter and it sits flush with the board I use under it, so I quickly realized it would be wise to buy and use a cooling pad. I found one with four cooling fans, light weight, and otherwise quite functional. It was advertised as having two extra USB ports on it, but I discovered while setting it all up that one of those has to be used to power the cooling pad (plugged into one of the computer USB ports). So, I have no more ports than I had before. Minor inconvenience for the good cooling it provides, though.

I’ll share about the learning curve of using this new gaming computer in the next post.

Razer Failure

While enjoying the Asus computer and well before the worst of its problems began I made an investment in a new mouse.

After visiting and gaming with grandsons, I decided to buy a gaming mouse that one of them had. It is a Razer DeathAdder Elite. It is a really sophisticated mouse, but so far I have not really used any of its gaming features, because I am not sure I could get used to all the extra buttons, remembering which is for which action in a particular game. Also, the games I play for the most part do not require quick reactions or special functions, so a standard mouse works just fine.

Less than a year after purchase I started having problems with the left click button. Most of the time it would perform a double click after only a single click, and the click and drag function did not work. These problems made gaming very difficult.

After looking online for solutions, I engaged in an online chat three times with Razer tech support. Finally, after explaining I had tried everything they suggested (cleaning the mouse, reinstalling the device and software, updating driver, etc.) I eventually ended up having to request authorization for return of merchandise (an RMA as they called it – Return Merchandise Authorization). Because the one-year warranty was still in effect, a return was possible.

Once the RMA was approved, they sent me a prepaid shipping label, and I sent the mouse back using its original packaging. (I always keep the packaging just in case…)

The RMA process went smoothly. Once they received the old mouse, they sent me a new one. I have installed it and it works well, so far. I will take great care with this one, especially while traveling, so no pressure or bumping of the mouse buttons occurs, as I suspect that may have been a contributing factor in the failure of the first one.

I will very likely never buy another gaming mouse, unless I someday am playing games that require more functions than a standard mouse has.

End of Asus ROG Story

I was quite disappointed to lose the Asus to motherboard problems. It was the first time I had a motherboard fail and it was just less than three years old. I must have been very hard on it with the long hours of continuous gaming.

After reconciling myself to the fact it was not repairable, I decided to salvage the two hard drives (one 120 Gig, the other 1 terabyte) as well as the memory cards (two 8 Gig) for potential future use.

With nothing to lose by making a mistake that would harm a motherboard component, I took it apart (removing 7 or 8 small screws from the back) which allowed me to turn it over and take off the keyboard from the top (unsnapping all the way around the edges) and was able to quite easily take out those components. It was while doing this that I realized the battery was in its own separate compartment and it would not have taken this whole procedure to remove it on my own. That knowledge might come in handy sometime in the future.

Because I was not sure I had all the data backed up when the computer died, I bought a USB to SATA adapter and plugged each drive in to copy and save all the data. It was a relatively small investment to buy that adapter, but well worth it.

Having gutted it, I took the computer to the shop for them to recycle, something they do without charge for basically all kinds of hardware.

So ends the story of the Asus ROG laptop (referred to by Asus as a “notebook”).

 

Battery Charging Problems

About six months ago, I started noticing some problems with the battery on the Asus ROG G751JY. At first, it manifested in the battery discharging even while being plugged in. I thought that was quite odd because it only happened while playing Civ VI. After doing some research online, I learned that was a common occurrence with laptops and high-end graphics gaming. Simply put, the power going through the power cord and brick cannot produce enough power fast enough to run games like Civ VI, so the laptop had to use both the connected power cord and the battery to power the game. I never noticed that with Civ V or even the earliest versions of Civ VI, but with the Rise and Fall update, the power demand appeared to increase. After learning this was common for gamers, for a while I did not do any more trouble shooting, but learned to monitor the battery level so as not to be shut down suddenly in mid-game.

Then sometime a few months ago, the battery would not recharge upon closing the game and going back to regular power usage. When all else fails, reboot or shut down and restart is one of my mottos. So that became my go to solution, because after shutting down the computer and waiting a few minutes, it would begin to recharge. Sometimes I had to unplug the power cord from the computer, wait a few minutes, then plug it in again for the recharging to start. That led me to more trouble shooting research online and I found one particular site very useful. It identified eight possible causes for this problem. Some really obvious “operator error” possibilities like checking to see that the power cord is really plugged in to both computer and functioning A/C outlet and checking to see that all connections, such as power cord to power brick, were secure. Others were more ominous.

When the problem became noticeably worse, such as the issue occurring with Minecraft as well as Civ VI, I decided I was going to need to check out the more serious potential problems. From previous laptop experience, I knew sometimes taking out the battery to shut down any battery power connection and booting computer without battery would help determine if the battery was bad and needed to be replaced. So, I set out to do that. The only problem was with the Asus ROG, the battery was not easily accessible and the back of the computer had to be dismantled to get to it. That turned out to be too daunting a task for me, so I opted for taking it in to the shop.

I asked them to check the three options I suspected: 1) bad battery, 2) bad power connector on the computer (where cord connects to computer), 3) failing or bad power cord/power brick. They did not find any of the three to be the problem, so I took it home again, still hoping for it not to be the worst – a motherboard problem, although the most likely possibility was in fact the battery sensors on the motherboard.

I muddled along for maybe a couple of more weeks before eventually the battery would not recharge at all no matter what I did. Back to the shop. They rechecked everything and eventually settled on probability that the power connector was the likely culprit, so ordered a replacement. The first one they got was the wrong one, so another had to be ordered. After installation, the problem still persisted and so the test of a boot up without the battery in the computer was the final straw. Even then it would not boot up at all, confirming it was a problem with the motherboard. Needless to say, replacing a motherboard was too costly to consider.

So, RIP Asus ROG G751JY.